Haynes, Holly. Survival and Memory in the Agricola
Haynes analyses how Tacitus responds to the problems of speaking, writing, and remembering after a period of terror, comparing this response with modern parallels, such as the psychological aftermath of Pinochet's regime in Chile. In particular, the paper considers what the figure of Agricola as constructed by Tacitus might represent for the survivors of Domitian (and what that literary construction can tell us about Tacitus's own guilty feelings). The memorable description of those who outlived that emperor as nostri supersites, "survivors of ourselves" (Agricola 3.2), suggests that tyranny (even after it has gone) generates a kind of death, even for those who did not actually lose their lives. In this context, Tacitus's Agricola can be read as an assertion of self, or a self-representation, after a time when terror has almost erased the possibility of speaking about oneself or anything else. Yet this is still a cautious work, even a paradoxical one: rather than writing about Domitian himself, Tacitus instead chooses as a subject his father-in-law, who represents the victims of the Domitianic era without actually having been murdered. Even Agricola himself is an ambiguous figure, whose virtues are advertised by sententiae that leave the reader on the ropes. In the end, Agricola occupies a dual role in the text that bears his name: he serves to exemplify both the best one can do under a tyrant and the worst that such a "best" represents. Thus Agricola is used to articulate Tacitus's morally ambivalent feelings about his own conduct under Domitian. The paper concludes that what was good about Agricola will be remembered because Tacitus wrote about it, but shows how the price of writing was the difficult plumbing of his own tortured past.
Arethusa Volume 39, Number 2, Spring 2006